Lisa Frankenstein Review: Diablo Cody’s Return To Horror Is A Fun, Twisted Romance For Emo Kids

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Written By Maya Cantina

“Hell is a teenage girl.” Those now famous words were written by Diablo Cody and were the first words to be spoken in the 2009 movie Jennifer’s Body, starring Megan Fox. Fifteen years later, Cody has returned to the horror genre for the first time since then with Lisa Frankenstein, and those words still ring true for a new blood-soaked protagonist. But this time, Hell is a teenage boy, too… especially when it comes to one from Victorian times literally rising from the grave to help one teenage girl exact revenge on those who’ve wronged her. 

Lisa Frankenstein

(Image credit: Michele K. Short/Focus Features)

Release Date: February 9, 2024
Directed By: Zelda Williams
Written By: Diablo Cody
Starring: Kathryn Newton, Cole Sprouse, Liza Soberano, Carla Gugino, Henry Elkenberry and Joe Chrest
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 101 minutes

That is the premise of Lisa Frankenstein, which stars Marvel’s Kathryn Newton as Lisa: a high-schooler who is grappling with a tragic death of a family member by spending her days at a creepy grave site reading stories to the dead. She’s especially fond of hanging out beside the site of one deceased man (Cole Sprouse) who was apparently around her age when he died many generations prior. But of course, she never imagines he would rise from the dead and make his way to her doorstep. Romantic, huh? 

Penned by Diablo Cody and helmed by Zelda Williams (the daughter of the late, great Robin Williams) in her feature film debut, Lisa Frankenstein is a fun time for horror fans who also love a classic John Hughes movie. The February release isn’t afraid to contort itself into creepy corners whilst simultaneously living in a dreamy, cotton-candy ‘80s world where grief and lust are explored with twisted passion. It’s a Frankenstein flick where the wheel isn’t being invented, but it’s a great time nonetheless. 

Lisa Frankenstein is a great followup for Diablo Cody after modern cult favorite Jennifer’s Body.

Diablo Cody is the writer behind Juno, Young Adult and Tully, but Jennifer’s Body is one of those special horror films that was ahead of its time when it hit theaters. While it’s too early to tell if lightning struck twice on the cult-following front (even if there’s quite literaly lightning strikes in Lisa Frankenstein), especially in terms of her latest instantly earning comparisons to Jennifer’s Body, but in the spirit of the filmmaker’s previous effort in the horror genre, Lisa Frankenstein takes some more bold swings. It also aspires to shock and surprise just as much as touching one’s soul with the messages that are boiling underneath. 

Despite its Valentine’s Day season release, it’s certainly more comedy than romance. From the animated black and white opening sequence reminiscent of a Tim Burton movie to its rather dark final moments, this one is for the emo kids. There’s certainly enough black mascara for it to be, too. 

Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse are a great duo in Lisa Frankenstein. 

At the gooey center of Lisa Frankenstein is the solid pairing of Kathryn Newton and Cole Sprouse as two oddballs from different times just hoping to feel something in a cruel world. Kathryn Newton particularly brings the charm as an angsty teen who doesn’t fit into school but finds a new stride when Sprouse’s Creature comes into her life. She starts to sprout at school and at home once his dark influence enters the fold, and it’s a blast to witness. Sprouse balances a comical performance with one of softness and intrigue as his lanky character grunts rather than speaks and undergoes a slow makeover at the hand of Lisa. 

While the narrative structure could have led to far too many familiar fish-out-of-water moments between the Creature, Lisa and its very ‘80s setting, the filmmakers balance it all with blood and guts of it all as the pair become partners in crime. Lisa Frankenstein isn’t afraid to take some wild hard left into sexual innuendos and a lot of severed body parts, whilst also keeping the hand it has left steady on providing a light but rather twisted sense of humor. Its PG-13 rating certainly drives to the edge of R, making it friendly viewing to a teen audience, but not so uptight to its place as a coming-of-age story. 

Another particular highlight in terms of casting is Carla Gugino as Lisa’s stepmother, Janet. The actress, who has been comfortably in the niche of horror as of late, most notably with a slew of Mike Flanagan projects, adds a great color to Lisa Frankenstein as a central character.

Zelda Williams’ directorial debut is a dreamy gothic horror romance, with a fun rough edge. 

ISure, it’s great to see a new Diablo Cody come to life and to see Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein inspire yet another original storyline, but perhaps the centerpiece of the whole thing that helps bring together Lisa Frankenstein in such an inspired way is through the directorial debut of Zelda Williams. There’s a lush dreaminess about the production design, costumes and overall rhythm of the movie that is a joy to see play out on the big screen. It’s plenty playful and lighthearted, but Williams’ direction also brings an underlying melancholy, cerebral (sometimes cartoonish) quality to the narrative all as well. Perhaps it could have gone a step or two further, but it knows it wants to be accessible, and that’s OK too. 

In the renaissance of horror, Lisa Frankenstein may be more of a mixtape of awesome genre-blending than anything else, but Diablo Cody’s feminine gaze continues to impress inside the constructs of this sweet, yet deliciously gory romantic comedy. 

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